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Think of how exciting it would be if you should discover you felt like me.

July 24, 2009

I know what you’re thinking.

“Good God, man, there are but seven days left in this fair month of July and you’ve not yet done a ‘Vs.’ post this month!”

Well first, let me say, you speak very eloquently.

Second, let me say the computer where I put together the infamous Vs. photographs (that is, the computer that carries Photoshop, which I can only use in its most rudimentary way) was acting a bit wonky this month. Thankfully it’s functioning somewhat properly and you get the great artwork to go along with this month’s Vs. post.

And how exciting this month’s post is.

One of the most notorious things about Motown Records — especially in its heyday — was the label’s proclivity to leave really good stuff permanently sealed in the vaults. Amazing cuts from some of their top artists, amazing ALBUMS from some of their top artists (David Ruffin’s self titled 1971 album springs immediately to mind). 

Now, usually stuff was left in the vaults for probably a pretty good reason. It’s hard to think of a time between 1964 and 1972 when Motown wasn’t the label imprint on some chart topping song or album. Berry Gordy ran the company in a very formulaic way designed to sustain chart dominance — he even employed juries to listen to newly recorded cuts and determine whether it was a hit or not before the songs went out for release. 

And with powerhouses like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield as just some of your core songwriters, you can imagine a lot of great stuff stockpiled quickly, and a lot of stuff just naturally got swept underneath the rug while it was waiting — “The Tears of a Clown” didn’t become a major hit until about five years after it was recorded.

Still, the vault raiders that have since made special, limited-time-only releases of albums like Ruff’s aforementioned solo album and compilations like A Cellarful of Motown, have made fans simultaneously thank God for letting someone unearth all these forgotten treasures and curse God (or Motown execs) who thought some of this stuff was not up to snuff the first time around.

The greatest example of this has to be a song called “All I Do is Think About You,” written by Stevie Wonder and originally recorded at the end of 1965. The song is a mid-tempo ballad, bolstered by a signature in-the-pocket drumbeat, lovely strings and angelic backing vocals. 

David Ruffin’s girlfriend and Marvin Gaye’s foil Tammi Terrell added her vocals to the backing track in January 1966 and delivered (what pretty much anyone who’s heard the song can tell you) a perfect pop single. Three minutes in length with a wistful and pained vocal, “All I Do is Think About You” was probably the best unrequited love song ever committed to tape at the time.

But for whatever reason, Motown execs blanched at the recording. It’s hard to ascertain why. Maybe they wanted to keep Tammi focused on duets with Marvin. Maybe they wanted a good vehicle for Brenda Holloway, who’d experienced some amount of success with label when she debuted in 1964, but had not managed to keep a successful run of hits like other women on the label.

So the engineers kept the backing track recorded in December 1965, removed Tammi’s vocals from the mix and let Brenda have a shot at singing the song.

Where Tammi took the song to a wistful and innocent place, Brenda inserted a bit more pain and anguish into proceedings (not surprising when you figure her big hit for the label up to that point was the heartwrenching “Every Little Bit Hurts”). 

It still was a kickass affair, but again Motown did nothing with the song. Both Tammi’s and Brenda’s versions were shelved and the song was completely forgotten about for more than a decade before Stevie Wonder himself dusted it off, rewrote a few lyrics and gave it a disco feel for his 1977 album Hotter Than July.

It’s hard to dismiss anything by Stevie Wonder, but all it takes is one listen to the versions that were never previously heard to prove that Stevie was way out of his league doing his own song. 

Thankfully, Tammi’s version found the light of day on the Cellarful of Motown anthology and Brenda’s surfaced on the Brenda Holloway Anthology

What you have here, then, is a “Vs.” first — two versions of the song with the exact same backing track. So comparison really comes down to the two ladies’ respective deliveries. 

I’m crazy about Brenda Holloway. I think she was the most underrated and underutilized weapon in Motown’s arsenal, but really, Tammi’s version is perfection. It’s the innocence in her delivery that really sells this song. 

But that’s just me. What says you?

 

tammivsbrenda

Tammi Terrell vs. Brenda Holloway
“All I Do is Think About You” 


Tammi Terrell – All I Do is Think About You

Brenda Holloway – All I Do is Think About You

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for Brenda’s version, which I’d never heard (or been aware of). I remember when I first heard Tammi’s rendition. I was familiar with Stevie’s take, and liked it, but Tammi’s recording was a revelation. Wow! I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have become a smash if Motown had let it see the light of day.


  2. theyve all what they’ve got!



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